Benign Flame: Saga of Love - 20
Continued from “Curtain of Curtesy”
Unmindful of the sentimental ways of its passengers, while the Minar Express kept its westward course, reclining in the first class coupe, Raja Rao reminisced over that incomplete encounter with Roopa.
‘What would she have said had I not drawn her attention to Sathyam’s presence?’ he began to contemplate, ‘Could she have disclosed her love for me? Unlikely, but surely she would have said something to break the ice. How momentous it should’ve been if we were slower by a step or two. Isn’t it clear to both of us that we’re in love with each other? Haven’t we conveyed our love in so many words and in such subtle ways? What remained was affixing the ‘I Love You’ stamp to the envelope of our mutual fascination. Of course, to post it to the address of our affair, isn’t it? Well, in spite of having Sandhya, life may not be worth living without possessing Roopa.’
As he thought about Sandhya, herself seemingly immersed in Roopa’s thought, he tried to analyze her character and attitude. ‘It appears that she had taken no note of our mutual infatuation,’ he began to think, ‘how she was lost in her own love for me and affection for her friend. Maybe, in the euphoria of her excitement, the unmistakable attraction Roopa and I felt for each other could have appealed to her as a manifestation of her own love. What a happy nature Sandhya has! What a blessed soul she is!’
‘You seem to be upset,’ he said, finding Sandhya pensive.
‘More than the separation from Roopa,’ she said, resting her head on his shoulder, ‘it’s the thought of the distance that’s disturbing me.’
‘You know it won’t be that way for long,’ he tried to assuage her feelings.
‘Oh, how I long for that day,’ she looked at him as though for a reassurance.
‘I won’t make you wait for long,’ he said pressing her hand. ‘By any chance, is Sathyam some sort of her relation before their marriage?’
‘Why that doubt?’ she said, even as she grasped what made him pose that question.
‘Frankly speaking,’ said Raja Rao, confirming what she thought, ‘I think she deserves a better match than that. So I felt she could have been married off to keep her within the family. What a pity that many slight a bright match for an unsuitable alliance from the family circle.’
‘I don’t believe in talking about others’ affairs,’ she said moved by his talk. ‘But as I feel you’re as much my friend as husband, it is only proper that you too should know about her affairs as she is one of us. Don’t you remember that she’s your friendly half now? Hers was an arranged marriage anyway.’
‘You can trust me as a friend,’ he said, and added as though with an eye on the future, ‘more than as a husband. As a friend, you would find me frank in interaction, but as husband, I might be selective in disclosing. I believe thoughtless openness hurts more than it helps relationships.’
‘I appreciate that,’ she said, turning thoughtful herself.
‘After all,’ he said kissing her hand, ‘it’s not that frankness alone brings a couple closer. It’s the mutual respect that develops a feeling of togetherness between them.’
‘With Roopa,’ she said, as her face brightened, ‘the feeling of friendship fuses with the emotions of our affection.’
‘I suppose, that’s possible only in friendship between women,’ he said. ‘Though I am happy for you, I am worried about her.’
‘But why?’ she said, puzzled.
‘It’s very clear that theirs is an intellectual mismatch,’ he said gravely. ‘And given her faculties, she could be a mightily bored wife by now. Won’t that bring her face to face with the temptation for deviation? After all, liaison is the last resort of a bored woman. In a way, she could be on the thin edge of married ice. So, for her, while a fall could be grievous, life itself would be laborious in the long run.’
‘You’ve guessed it right,’ she said as if she were confessing on behalf of Roopa. ‘Whatever it was, she wasn’t enthused about Sathyam from the beginning, though she did mould herself into a dutiful wife. About the temptations and all, though it may be true otherwise, she is no run-of-the-mill for that.’
‘Left to her,’ he said concernedly, ‘what you say could be true. But do realize that she doesn’t live in an ivory tower anyway. Any man can sense the void in her wedded life and that would make him imagine the possibilities. The attempts at seduction that would follow could insensibly disturb her moral equilibrium to push her into the arms of a novice for solace. What’s worse, desertion that is a corollary to seduction could affect her self-belief all the more. It’s not the moral aspect that bothers me for it’s her private affair, but it’s the possible fallout of that which should alarm us.’
‘Oh, you scare me really,’ she said clutching at his hand.
‘You should know that by their very nature affairs are short-lived,’ he sounded pensive. ‘Of course, they are often brought to a premature close by the favored man. On the other hand, it won’t be the case of ‘once bitten twice shy’ either for the ditched woman. Bitten by the novelty bug, woman could itch for a new lover to supplant her lost paramour. And having got addicted to the illicit thrills, she could jump from bed to bed with gay abandon. God forbid, if Roopa’s life were to follow this pattern, then she could end up depraved in the end.’
‘I’m really worried, though I don’t believe she would ever come to that,’ she said, and tried to believe what she said. ‘Any way, she’s too decent to end up depraved.’
‘It’s a pity Roopa would have to suffer all the more for her sense of decency,’ he said himself feeling the pain. ‘A life of despair, in spite of her disposition, would leave her exposed to the seducers, and the strain of resisting their advances could sap her resolve at some stage. Added to that is the burden of having had to remain a dutiful wife, and you could figure out the stress on her soul. All of which might combine to make her vulnerable to the male advances. So the boasts of men about their conquests would seem hollow since it’s the vulnerability of women that fetches them their favors. In her case anyway, were she to succumb in her moment of weakness, then she would suffer even more for having failed to desist from it.’
‘Oh, God,’ she sounded helpless. ‘But what can be done?’
‘I don’t think her problem lends itself to a clear-cut solution,’ he said, thoughtfully. ‘Surely, her destiny would have its own idea about reconciling her fate. Only we’ve to wait and see.’
Seeing her lost in contemplation, he thought over the matter, ‘how my analysis has upset her. Well, won’t I like to be proved wrong? Isn’t the possibility of Roopa’s fall for real? Someone might be lurking in the street corner to barge into her bed to bring about that.’
‘But why didn’t it occur to me when I was with her?’ he thought as such a prospect pained him. ‘Oh, how my fascination for her overshadowed my faculties! Why, she could drive men into distraction! Isn’t she likely to attract many? If only her favored man happens to be a genuine lover, then that liaison is bound to be a blessing in disguise for her. I could be the one, but would her fate let her wait for me? What with the passage of time, won’t her enamored feelings for me wane and her passion pale? Why shouldn’t someone with the right access replace me in her heart? Anyway, her affection for me didn’t cross the threshold of infatuation, did it?’
As the possibility of losing her unnerved him, be began to think, ‘Were she to come across the right man, won’t she be steady with him. Left in the lurch then, won’t I languish for her all my life? Were she to abandon herself, won’t her depravity cast its shadow on my life as well? Even if she were to come into my life after a couple of flings, wouldn’t the purity of our love get polluted by then? Why, as affairs tend to be physical escapades, won’t she miss the essence of love in the whirlwind of passion?’
‘What about my own infatuation for her?’ he questioned himself at length. ‘No doubt, it’s physical to the bones. Am I not dying to possess her? But then, my all-consuming passion stems from a deep-rooted affection for her. Can’t I perceive the purity of my love for her in the depths of my heart? After all, my craving is not all about possessing her, fabulous though she is. Why, am I not dying to bring about the fusion of our souls through our emotional togetherness? How fulfilled would I be, if only I could fill the void in her life, once and for all. Maybe, her feelings for me are no different. Haven’t I seen the longing of her soul in her gaze as I felt the craving of her love in her touch? What else I can do than pray that she has the patience to wait for the fruition of our love in a momentous union. That is, without she falling by the wayside as a victim of seduction in the meantime.’
‘Why did I fail to declare my love to her?’ he thought as he went on recalling their romance. ‘But then, didn’t my eyes speak enough about my infatuation for her. Couldn’t she have grasped my intent from all those innuendoes? True, she can’t be expected to take all that as the testimony of my devotion to her. Had I let her known that I loved her, it would perhaps have helped her persevere with her own love for me. But then, that way I should’ve offended her sensitivity in the formative period of her affection for me.’
‘What if I write to her now,’ he thought, as a way out of the predicament. ‘Won’t it give rise to misgivings in her mind, besides compromising my position? And then, why can’t all this be a mere flight of my own imagination? Being over strung myself, am I not going crazy in my head? Maybe, for her, it could be no more than a mere crush on me, and having seen our backs, she would have got back into her routine by now, wouldn’t she have?’
The feeling that Roopa may not be in danger as feared, eased his conscience in spite of his surmised indifference of her towards him.
‘Whatever it may be,’ he seemed to have decided, ‘better we move early and hope for the best in the meantime. I’ll have to make her mine if I were to be truly happy. What a treasure she’s to possess. What a remarkable woman she is indeed.’
Seeing Sandhya still uneasy, he thought, ‘Haven’t I scared her unwittingly? This poor thing loves that lovely one so dearly. It is better that way, as it may be easier for her to be reconciled to our liaison, if it ever comes to that.’
Sandhya, meanwhile, tried to comprehend the situation with apprehension. ‘When it’s so distressing to imagine, how horrible could be the reality, if that were to happen?’ she began to think. ‘Could Roopa ever go astray? What he said could be true in general, but isn’t Roopa all so special? Why doubt that at all. She isn’t going to be the one to lose her head to some silly seducer. After all, won’t she keep vanity at bay? Surely, she would.’
Before she could put her doubts at rest, she remembered Roopa’s tryst with Ravi at Tara’s place that increased her fears about her mate’s fate.
‘Won’t that confirm Raja’s apprehension about her situation,’ she became doubtful. ‘Didn’t Roopa lose her head like it happened with me in the bus? Can she keep her cool when someone comes wooing her the next time? After all, Raja could be proved right.’
Convinced about her man’s reading of the situation, Sandhya sought to analyze her mate’s mind-set, ‘It’s clear that Sathyam’s love is of no avail to her and he hasn’t got the vigor to dispel the euphoric clouds from her lovesick eyes. Hasn’t his wit failed to cater to her innate romanticism, leaving her ever more in amorous want? Won’t that make her vulnerable to the misty looks of the fast guys? Why, hasn’t she taken to Raja though she tried to hide her feelings from me? Well, haven’t I felt her romantic impulses in spite of my own excitement? Surely, Raja wouldn’t have failed to notice Roopa’s infatuation for him. How could he when he was the object of her adoration. Perhaps, that was at the back of his mind when he voiced his fears about her possible fall.’
‘Would Roopa then become a target practice for assorted seducers?’ she thought worried. ‘Is she sauntering on the volcano of temptation to be swept away by the lava of illicit passion?’ As she shuddered to think further, she tried to push that thought away, only to get bogged down all the same.
‘But, how can I remain indifferent to her predicament given our own intimacy?’ she thought at length, overcome with empathy for her friend. ‘Could I ever let my treasure slip into the garbage of vice? Shouldn’t I go to lengths to see that she might not fall into the alien hands? Won’t her indulgence with assorted characters sour our own amour? Having tasted the sweetness of her ardor, how could I forego the joy of our intimacy? How can I let things foul-up at her end? No way.’
‘I could have averted all this had I been genuine when Roopa wanted my opinion about Sathyam,’ she thought going to the roots of her friend’s ailment. ‘Well, how I lectured her to opt for the match, though I myself wasn’t impressed with Sathyam? How cruel that I placed the proverbial last straw on her emotionally unstable back then, though unwittingly. Unable to match her mood with the reality of her life, how she has been suffering in silence ever since? That is while I’m on cloud nine. How mean of me. If only I had been frank with her then, I wouldn’t have tilted the scales of her doubt with my immature ranting. Didn’t I insensibly impose this marital burden on her, forever? But the poor thing never blamed me for that, and instead bore it all resignedly! Moreover, when I got the man of men as my man, didn’t Roopa rejoice at my fortune without a tinge of jealously? She doesn’t deserve to suffer, the poor thing. Didn’t Raja sum it up it all so well, when he said that she would suffer even more for the nobility of her soul? Oh, God, how can I alleviate her suffering?’
Overcome with worry, she pictured the future, ‘If we move over to Hyderabad, I can be near her, but how that would help her? Finding me joyous, won’t she suffer even more for her deprivation? Caught between the joy for my fulfillment and the burden of her want, won’t she be worse off for that? But if we stay put in Delhi, Roopa would have to fend for herself when she needs me the most. What a classic Catch 22 to contend with!’
As the prospect of Roopa falling in love with Raja Rao in the eventuality of their shifting to Hyderabad dawned on her, she tried to visualize its affect on them all.
‘Roopa could be caught in a cleft of love and loyalty, leave alone fidelity,’ surmised Sandhya. ‘In that case, instead of bringing succor to her, won’t we compound her misery? If Raja too falls for her, won’t the lovers suffer for my sake, as they both love me? After all, which man can remain indifferent to her charms for long? Of course, a romantic like him is bound to rave about her. Isn’t he concerned about her already? As their infatuation would keep them morose, won’t my own mood turn sour?’
‘What’s the way out?’ she raked her brains. ‘Were I to leave her to her fate, and God forbid, were she to go astray, then I would never be able to forgive myself. My guilt-filled conscience would ensure that for sure. Won’t I feel miserable seeing her in the dumps? How can I afford to leave her alone? Come what may, I shall protect her, whatever it might take. Above all, we must shift first. Let life take its own course thereafter.’
‘Which course could it take then?’ she turned inquisitive to gaze at the crystal ball. ‘Roopa for all that may never cross the threshold of her romantic leanings, and might forever remain within the bounds of marital fidelity. In that case, our coming together will restore to us what we’ve been missing in our separation. Even if Raja gets attracted to her, unable to cross the hurdle of her fidelity, he would still confine himself to his lane of platonic love.’
As she wondered whether man-woman attraction could be bound by sentimentality, she ventured on the path of adultery, ‘should Roopa itch for a romantic escapade, then Raja could easily out-tempt every other suitor of hers, given his personality as well as proximity to her. Let it be so, if that’s the way it should be to keep her away from any amorous misadventure. Though I might have liked to keep my man all for myself, accommodation seems to be the only mode of my atonement, does it not? Won’t that bring cheer into her life and unburden my guilt as well. It’s all about my sharing my better half with my other half, as much for their satiation as for my salvation. So be it. Well, won’t that seem logical even, given my lesbian relationship with Roopa? More so, that would ensure that her amours are kept in-house. Well, the ménage a trois we were jesting about so much all along seems to be on hand, after all! What myriad amours we three could bring into our orgies.’
‘After all, would it be fair to Sathyam?’ she thought as her sympathy and affection for him came to the fore. ‘But, how could it be helped? Maybe, it doesn’t help man taking a lively wife if he’s not up to the mark. What a fine soul Sathyam otherwise is! What a pity love doesn’t take one’s character into account for its leanings. If Sathyam were destined to be cuckolded, would it not be in order that Roopa is cajoled in Raja’s arms. In a queer way, won’t that ensure she remains in the family fold?’
As she couldn’t help but envision the love life in the offing for three of them, she thought, ‘Once we shift there, they wouldn’t be able to hide their infatuation from me for long. It would be a great fun intercepting their signals and deciphering their gestures. I could even scare them by dropping hints that I was spying. Won’t that pep up their sense of adventure before I pave the way for their lovemaking, only to envelop them in an amorous triangle? How marvelous would be those uninhibited orgies with the man and the woman I love!’
The thrill she felt in fantasizing their threesome fuelled her love for her husband and her friend, fusing them all into one erotic idea in her consciousness.
‘Don’t get upset, darling,’ he said, as they sat for dinner at length. ‘Your love will save the day for your friend.’
‘Can I ask for more?’ she smiled mirthfully.
‘I’ll join you,’ he said folding his hands as if in prayer, ‘in your prayers.’
‘Thank you,’ she said with a smile. ‘And act as well.’
‘You can bet on that,’ he said solemnly.
‘Down the shutter,’ she said after their meals, coyly looking at the window.
‘If you don’t mind,’ he said, kissing her forehead, ‘why not we skip for tonight.’
‘Well,’ she winked, ‘I can get you into that.’
‘Your mere thought is enough for that,’ he said apologetically. ‘But somehow, I’m in no mood now.’
‘I was only joking,’ she said. ‘Good night.’
‘Obviously he’s disturbed,’ she thought endearingly. ‘Is he in love with her already? He seems to be one step ahead of me, Raja the romantic.’
Having been assured of a love-filled future for Roopa, soon Sandhya slept pleasantly on the lower berth in that coupe for two.
Continued to “Enduring Longing”